Going deeper: strategy, tactics, operations

If you’re still into this emerging little sub-series on strategy and Clausewitz, read Kenneth Payne’s rebuttal to my posts and our discussion in the comments.

Kenneth challenges my view that Truman and MacArthur can be seen as archetypes for strategy and tactics, and frames them instead in the perennial tension between civilian and military leadership. In the comments, he then refines that into the idea of operational versus non-operational war-making.

This immediately reminded me, obliquely, of a great (incisive and entertaining) TED talk by Thomas Barnett, a great strategist. His thesis is precisely about how strategy affects operations–ie, the ‘boring’ bits of the Pentagon and State Department.

In a nutshell: The strategic situation of the United States today is one of

catastrophic successes

Sound familiar?

In this context, Barnett means that our military is so strong that nobody is willing to fight us in the “ordinary” way anymore. So what do we do with all our power?

The pattern (Iraq, etc) is this: We kick ass in war, then fail in peace. Because we are bad at the transition. What we have, according to Barnett, is

A Leviathan force.

What we now need to add is a

sysadmin (system administration) force … or  a “Department of Something Else” between war and peace

to manage the messes we create. Speaking like a true strategist–indeed, as I believe Clausewitz would have spoken–Barnett says:

Don’t plan for the war unless you plan to win the peace

So, to me, this is still all about ends and means, strategy and tactics. Here is the talk:



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2 thoughts on “Going deeper: strategy, tactics, operations

  1. “What we now need to add is a ……..sysadmin (system administration) force … or a “Department of Something Else” between war and peace……….”

    Knowing some history also helps.

  2. Re: catastrophic successes. Guess most of ’em U.S. Gov’t dudes don’t read much of history. There was a Greek dude named Pyrrhus who once exclaimed “One more such victory will undo me!” Where next, perhaps bring the front to pakistan or iran?

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